Global fan engagement in a global arms race

Liverpool CEO Peter Moore speaks to a crowd during his keynote speech at SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Image courtesy of George Murray).

How technology and social media exist at the heart of modern football

With the landscape of modern football ever-changing, the influence of technology and social media is undeniable. The introduction of VAR was, and continues to be, a point of contention among fans, players and pundits alike, but for the clubs themselves a more important issue is at hand.

During a keynote speech at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas earlier this month, Peter Moore (Liverpool Football Club Chief Executive Officer and former EA Sports President) spoke about how his previous work experiences are crossing paths and the business of football is approaching what he described as “a collision point.” The world’s top clubs are jostling for position at the forefront of the minds of fans across the globe, and the progression to contemporary application of technology and social media are at the core of clubs’ global fan engagement.

Moore’s current employers are a case in point. Having worked in senior corporate positions in the gaming and technological industries before becoming CEO of his favourite football team, he is the perfect man to inform about what he sees as the inevitable development of sport as it increasingly embraces technology and social media. Moore talked passionately about his view on the impact of technology on global fan engagement, highlighting the need for a strong connection between teams and their fans.

“Clubs, teams and leagues are working to maintain and strengthen the position they hold in the hearts and minds of millions of passionate fans,” he said.

In fact, Moore’s previous work experiences seem to be providing his current employers a head start. He presented a number of statistics which stated Liverpool’s recent successes in social media engagement, adding to their ever-growing fanbase while maintaining a vital connection with existing supporters. The Liverpool-born CEO proudly spoke of how his club are succeeding in terms of social media fan engagement and catching up with fierce rivals Manchester United.

In 2018, on Instagram, Liverpool gained six million new followers on the platform, as opposed to United’s gain of five million on the same platform. Social media sites such as Instagram provide a medium for fans to interact with clubs and their favourite players, sharing videos and getting instant match reactions.

The potential for global fan interaction is limitless and exaggerated for the elite clubs in the world when they venture on pre-season tours to locations with large bases of loyal supporters. Moore cited such an occasion from last summer, when the two rivals met in an International Champions Cup pre-season match at the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. On this day, more than 101,000 supporters were present, emphasizing the importance of connecting with these fans not only on tours prior to domestic kick off but also through effective interactive engagement activity.

Further, Liverpool came in at eighth on Forbes’ 2018 list of most valuable football clubs with a valuation of 1.46 billion pounds. The list was headed by Manchester United worth 3.12 billion, followed by Real Madrid and Barcelona who were both valued at over 3 billion pounds. I asked Moore about how he perceives his boyhood club today, while also recognizing the reach of the elite clubs Liverpool must compete with.

“As I travel the world George, big for me is not the number of fans. Big for me is not how many people show up at our stadium. Big for me is not the revenues. It is the depth of passion, love and emotion I see with our fans all around the world.”

In the future, however, the landscape is likely to change further. Regarding the fans and the clubs themselves, interaction will remain key.

“Tomorrow’s fans don’t just want to watch sports, they want to experience them,” he said.

“We’re faced with a dilemma – how do we embrace this new generation? Increasingly, we learnt that to bring people into sports, you needed to give them an experience that looked like gaming.”

Evidently, this may become the norm. In order to access the next generation of fans who have become accustomed to technology use, sports teams across the globe face stiff competition, while attempting to develop their relationship with existing supporters. Moore introduced Intel’s new “True View” concept as an example of how Liverpool are seeking to get ahead of their competitors.

With expertise in both worlds, Moore’s primary message about sport (specifically football) approaching a collision point is an apt one, and something sports organisations and supporters alike will have to consider going forward. As they have already started doing, professional clubs must access the next generation of supporters by tapping into the world of technology and gaming, with an acceptance of the necessity to evolve with the times.

As the football world evolves, the importance of a club’s engagement with its fans remains vital. Social media platforms are an ideal platform for a club to reach out, inform and appeal to supporters in the same way that watching their heroes perform on the pitch does.

The tussle for supremacy among the top teams is becoming just as important off the pitch as it is on it. In a global race with clubs looking to fire themselves to the top on and off the pitch, arming themselves with experts like Moore is a good start.

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